The world has changed since I founded my digital marketing agency, Findsome & Winmore, in 1995. Hashtags were pound signs, dial-up internet tied up our landlines and web 2.0 hadn’t shown its full potential. But we have evolved with the times, adopting tactics that may have once seemed ludicrous or impossible before the renaissance of shareable content truly began.
Today, your marketing doesn’t stand a chance unless your strategy embraces a singular fact: traditional, sales-heavy ads will often be far less engaging than quality, shareable content distributed for free. Need proof? According to the Content Marketing Institute, 2oo million people use ad blockers and, though content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing, it yields three times as many leads.
This is one of the lessons that propelled me to begin outlining and writing my latest book, Formulaic: How Thriving Companies Market from the Core, which led me to find examples outside of my own firm of this practice that yields powerful results for companies like Patagonia and Dollar Shave Club.
Patagonia, the outdoor apparel giant, puts what I’m sure amounts to thousands of dollars of time and work into their catalog. But this is more than a simple sales brochure. The Patagonia catalog features in-depth, magazine-quality stories from people who actually use their products. The publication puts the customers–not the company–in the spotlight and simultaneously conveys the spirit of the brand. Add to it some high-quality photography, and they have a product that people would pay for (but don’t have to). Even better, the content itself is largely contributed by the audience it targets.
Dollar Shave Club, the rebellious facial hair aficionados, have been known for their quirky online ads. However, it’s their “Bathroom Minutes” tips series that I find most influential in creating shareable content and giving it away for free. Though not written by their customers, this series still speaks directly to its audience. From “The Plumber’s Guide to Not Clogging Your Sink When Shaving” to “5 Non-BS Health and Grooming Life Hacks,” this is content that could easily be featured on Men’s Health, but Dollar Shave Club is giving it away without the subscription fee. Why? Because it is valuable for their audience and will result in clicks, attention and, hopefully, brand awareness that will lead more people to that “buy” button.
But what can other businesses gain from giving away quality content for free? If Findsome & Winmore’s success is any indicator, quite a lot.
- Public Relations: The more you do outside of the confines of your product or service, the more the media’s ears may perk. Barring an exciting new menu item at your restaurant or the announcement of your real estate firm’s new big project, public relations experts will have much more to run with if your brand positions itself as a thought leader in your field. For our marketing firm, that included Formulaic and the events we centered around it. Though the book is for sale, we have used it as a marketing tool and launchpad for multiple blogs, speaking engagements and events that not only inform our audience, but help us assert our place as leaders in marketing strategy while gaining media attention along the way. You can do the same by creating content that speaks to your audience in the format they most often use: podcasts, online tutorials, printed catalogs–nothing is off the table.
- Global Search Traffic: SEO is a major influencer in everything we do. From crafting web copy to writing blogs, we do our best to ensure our content is following the latest search engine standards while remaining a good read for the audience. Creating quality content that can be shared across multiple channels brings your brand to a larger audience, simultaneously increasing your global online coverage and searchability. Findsome & Winmore regularly produces blog content and shares a monthly newsletter with clients and industry contacts, and has seen large increases in website traffic as a result.
- Credibility: Would you buy the third-best cereal from your town’s fifth-best supermarket? Credibility is key to building confidence in your brand’s quality, but you can build this trust outside of doing your job well. Through sharing content with your audience for free, you allow them to preview your abilities and plant your flag as a resource in your specialty. The one-two punch of quality products or services and free, quality content is often a formula for credibility and long-term success.
As a small business owner myself, I absolutely understand the reluctance to give away anything of value for free; businesses are run on hard data and ROI, after all. But assets like PR opportunities, global search engine traffic and credibility should not be discounted by demanding all marketing directly drive sales. Through committing to viewing your brand as a publisher instead of strictly a salesperson, you can provide free, creative and highly shareable content that will keep the attention of your audience far more effectively than the pushy, “BUY NOW” ads of old